Read Nicholas Timmins’ reminder of what the NHS was like in the late 1990s:


When Ian Weir died in June 1999, his death had an impact that was felt way beyond the circle of his family and colleagues . . . Weir was just 38 years old and a father of two. He was diabetic, and had suffered a serious heart attack the previous November, after which he discovered he would have to undergo a triple heart bypass.He had already spent seven agonising months waiting, wondering whether he would live. The day after he collapsed at home and died, he had been due to have his first meeting with Simon Kendall, the cardiac surgeon who was to operate on him

Such, however, was the state of Britain’s National Health Service at the time that even after seven months of waiting, his surgeon says that he “would have had to tell him that he would still have had to wait several months more for the operation, if not a year”. The hospital had a waiting list of more than 600 for cardiac surgery . .. Ian Weir was not alone. Kendall says that in 1999, the heart surgeons in Middlesbrough used to tell their patients, brutally but honestly, that they had a 5 per cent chance of dying while on the waiting list. Around that time one study estimated that 500 ­cardiac patients a year were dying like that in the UK.

Today, the NHS remains far from perfect. But save for a few thousand patients waiting for orthopaedics and a few hundred waiting for neurosurgery – where there is a worldwide shortage of surgeons – no one in England need wait more than 18 weeks from seeing their GP to their treatment starting.


I’ve no doubt that the coming election campaign will produce all sorts of complaints about the NHS; it is very easy to find some in such a vast organisation.  But as with so, so many things from Brown’s fiscal policy to the Iraq war through to the non-rescue of Lehmans, no-one will be properly considering the counterfactual.

It is worth remembering what the NHS was like without the money, before condemning how much has been wasted on it.


One thought on “Some things have got better

  1. The data point I remember from the mid 90s winter/PFI crises was that an RAF support-helicopter squadron used up all its budgeted flying hours moving patients from hospital to hospital looking for beds by about June.

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